Historic “First” in North Carolina Prison Education Programming

Kelly Morin, Second Chance Initiative Program Manager

Clinton, NC: Sampson Correctional Institution

Receiving guidance from upperclassmen is a powerful tool to motivate and encourage students to persist to graduation. One of our goals within the Second Chance Initiative department was to connect our upperclassmen at Sampson Correctional Institution (male facility) with our first-year students at Anson Correctional Institution (female facility).

While this may sound like a simple concept, the implementation of this tool for incarcerated students required a great deal of approval, coordination, and preparation for correctional facility and university staff. After weeks of planning, we scheduled a virtual meeting between both groups. The students could hear and see each other in their respective classrooms, further solidifying the fact that they are all Campbell University students and experiencing this journey together.

This type of interaction between incarcerated students has never been accomplished in NC Prisons. We consider the success of this event a historic “first” in North Carolina prison education programming and hope that other genuine connections between students in different locations can be achieved.

We asked our first-year students (Anson) to provide questions to our upperclassmen (Sampson) that would be read by our Site Coordinator/Advisor Aaron Tyner. Below are some excerpts from the exchange.

How well did you manage your classes and deal with the negative energy that you may have received from others? Kawamie Cole: Since I’ve been in this program one of the ways we handle stress is that we as a cohort understood to complete assignments we had to band together as brothers and create a support system amongst each other. Other individuals may not want you to be successful. Lean on individuals within your cohort and remember that you are a student. Create a positive environment amongst yourselves.

How did you all separate your roles as an incarcerated person and as a student? Jamel Byrd: For me, one of the ways I separated myself was not identify with the negative perception of the prison mentality. So as a student, it is always characterized by the highest ideals and highest potential I have within myself. I automatically transition to the highest part of me that connected with Campbell University.

When you feel like saying “I can’t” what do you do? Timothy White: There’s been a lot of times during the journey being here for four years, that I felt like I can’t so what I try to do is stick to the goals that I set and realize that I’m my own worst enemy. I use my family as my anchor to keep me grounded and therapeutic to talk to my class and my cohort to vent and exercise together. They [my cohort] also help me with studying and give me advice as we are all going through this together. What really keeps me grounded is paying it forward and stay out of negativity as I don’t want to ruin this opportunity for someone else.

Were there times when you wanted to tap out? If so what made you stay? Mark Denning: Every semester at some point. Fortunately, I got these fellows here to help me and Dr. Smith have been invaluable to me. Being locked up for a while, you deal with a lot of stress and how you respond to it is different. When you become a part of this program you have to prioritize what is important and what is not important. Where you are sitting now, you are trying to make a difference in your life, as well as others around you. You got to use the positivity and let it move you and motivate you to do the right thing.

How do you want to put your degree to use when you are released?  Chenault Moore: When I fell (became incarcerated) in 2016, I was all alone and by myself and I didn’t communicate with anybody. With this degree and what I’ve learned is that you need help here (in the cohort) and you’ve going to need help out there in the world. I deal with social anxiety and it hurt me bad when I first started school. I didn’t know how to ask for help and I was on my way to quitting after about three months. The teachers were hard on me, not because they wanted to, but because they knew I could do it. At the end of the day, with the help of my cohort, I am able to use connections in here and in the world. Don’t isolate yourself from your classmates. The same way you will work as a team in the program, you will work as a team when you go to a job to go to work. The same way you have to deal with teachers and officers is the same way you will need to deal with manager.

In closing, I’d like to thank all of those who helped organize this successful event. Thank you to Anson Correctional leadership and staff (Warden Richardson, Kasie Lowder), Sampson Correctional leadership (Warden Van Gorder), and Campbell University leadership and staff (Dr. Rick Smith, Aaron Tyner, Makeba Johnson).